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From survival of the fittest competitors to THRIVAL of the fittest cooperators

In  previous blog post entitled Survival of the Unfittest?, I endeavoured to show that our social, economic, and political infrastructures were designed to enable the unfittest among us to survive. I opined:

“When we put the local machinations into its global context, we begin to see the death throes of a failing financial and economic system that is now trying to capitalise on social disharmony, environmental destruction, and even using false flag operations to manufacture conflict and wars, even wars on cancer, drugs and terrorism, in a desperate attempt to facilitate a modern form of creative destruction so as to keep the financial elites at the top of the financial pyramid scheme.

We know that such a system is unsustainable and unfit for the continued survival of our species and also that of many of the other species on the planet. There is so much at stake, and the latest salvo to kick-start the system, to get money leveraged over and over again is being initiated via the financial elites themselves, via the guise of philanthropic charitable giving, which seems to me to be another ploy of mirage and subterfuge. It speaks volumes as it is a telltale sign that they know too that the system they helped create or facilitate is not sustainable, and we are seeing now a desperate attempt of another survival of the unfittest scheme at work!!”

What I failed to appreciate then but I am beginning to appreciate now is that competition for scarce resources and survival of the fittest are not laws of nature that were discovered by Charles Darwin, but a political and economic ideology that was adopted by Darwin in his search for an explanation of the happenings in the natural world. In Elisabet Sahtouris’ eye-opening article entitled The Biology of Business – New Laws of Nature Reveal a Better Way for Business, she explains:

“In Darwin’s day, Thomas Malthus had been commissioned to inventory the Earth’s natural resources as head of the Economics Dept. of the East India Company’s Haileybury College. Malthus concluded from his work that the world would end soon because human populations would overwhelm food production, causing an inevitable dying off of humans. This prediction justified the East India Company’s “us or them” policy of assaying and acquiring all the Earth resources possible for Europeans so that they, at least, could survive.

It was Malthus who hired Darwin to continue his Earth inventory work for the East India Company and, when at a loss to otherwise explain the driver of evolution for his theory, Darwin simply adopted Malthus’ theory of competition in scarcity, thus giving us our social vision of scarcity and fierce competition for resources, of humanity doomed permanently to win/lose economics and warfare. As Darwin put it in The Origin of Species:

… Nothing is easier than to admit the truth of the universal struggle for life, or more difficult…than constantly to bear this conclusion in mind. Yet unless it be thoroughly engrained in the mind, I am convinced that the whole economy of nature, with every fact on distribution, rarity, abundance, extinction, and variation, will be dimly seen or quite misunderstood … As more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence… It is the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms; for in this case there can be no artificial increase of food, and no prudential restraint from marriage. 7

Thus, Darwinian theory as Darwin himself established it, not just through later misuse as “social Darwinism”, was very essentially rooted in political economy, which was itself rooted in a scientific worldview of a godless, mindless, coldly mechanical universe ever running down.”

7. Darwin, Charles, The Origin of Species (1859)

In an insightful exchange on the SKList last week, one of the listers, Poesy Southwell, also opened my eyes to the fact that just like Darwin, most of our world views are also essentially rooted in a political (economy) ideology, again also based on competition.  He opined:

“…One of the main problems we have here on this otherwise august list is that everything is seen through the lens of a political prism…

…Doc, having lived through politics from an infant to an adult, I understand the competition of politics better than most. Politics is about competition. But what many here do not grasp is that governance is about cooperation! Don’t get me wrong, you can’t dismiss politics from governing because in government there must be the same driving the message in a palpable form…
…Doc, I believe that politics is a noble profession on the same moral standing as any other profession. Unlike medicine however, politics as I said is about purely party and personal competition. As a physician your training (correct me if I am wrong) allowed you to see the human body as a complex system of ‘cooperation’ not ‘competition.’ All the cells and systems in the human body must cooperate in order for the entire body to function properly. Permit me to suggest that in our nascent community, physicians are often accorded the status of demi-gods. Unfortunately, after entering the political realm, many of them are seduced by the public adulation and forget ‘cooperation’ and concentrate solely on ‘competition.’…
He got me thinking.  Why is this the case?  Why can’t a physician who enters politics try to transform the political arena where we concentrate less on competition and more on cooperation?  Why can’t the standards of medical ethics be modelled in the political arena to create a standard of political ethics to guide our dialogue from within and without?  (Please see: Is there any political ethics similar to medical ethics?‏) Are there circumstances in which competition within the political arena can be healthy, and also where cooperation can be unhealthy?
By looking at this binary matrix of competition/cooperation and healthy/unhealthy, my mind fell immediately on an article I read last year by Riane Eisner entitled, Human Possibilities: The Interaction of Biology and Culture. The abstract reads as follows:
“This article briefly describes the two main strands of a new unified theory about human nature and human possibilities: cultural transformation theory and bio-culturalism. Bio-culturalism combines findings from neuroscience about how our brains develop in interaction with our environments with findings from the study of relational dynamics, a new method of social analysis focusing on what kinds of relations—from intimate to international—a particular culture or subculture supports. Bio-culturalism recognizes that our species has a vast spectrum of genetic capacities, ranging from consciousness, caring, empathy, cooperation, and creativity to insensitivity, cruelty, exploitation, and destructiveness, and proposes that which of these capacities are expressed or inhibited largely hinges on the nature of our cultural environments. Cultural transformation theory looks at the whole span of human cultural evolution from the perspective of the tension between the contrasting configurations of the partnership system and the domination system as two underlying possibilities for structuring beliefs, institutions, and relationships. The article describes the core components of partnership- and domination-oriented societies, provides examples of each, and proposes that our future hinges on accelerating the cultural transformation from domination to partnership in our time of nuclear and biological weapons and the ever more efficient despoliation of nature, when high technology guided by an ethos of domination and conquest could take us to an evolutionary dead end.”
In the article, Eisner expounds on the differences between domination and partnership systems.
The core configurations of the domination system consists of four interacting, mutually supporting components:
  1. A structure of rigid top-down rankings: hierarchies of domination maintained through physical, psychological, and economic control. This structure is found in both the family and the state or tribe, and is the template or mold for all social institutions.

  2. The rigid ranking of one half of humanity over the other half. Theoretically, this could be the female half over the male half. But historically, it has been the ranking of the male half over the female half. Along with this ranking of male over female, we see the higher valuing of “hard” qualities and behaviors, such as “heroic” violence and “manly” conquest and control. I want to emphasize that these are not qualities inherent in men, but rather qualities stereotypically associated with “real masculinity” in domination ideology.

  3. Culturally accepted abuse and violence, from child-and wife-beating to persecution of minorities and chronic warfare. Every society has some abuse and violence. But in cultures orienting to the domination model, we find the institutionalization and even idealization of abuse and violence to maintain hierarchies of domination—man over woman, man over man, race over race, religion over religion, tribe over tribe, nation over nation.

  4. Beliefs that relations of domination and submission are inevitable, normal, and even moral. In cultures and subcultures that orient closely to the domination model, we find teachings and stories that it is honorable and moral to kill and enslave neighboring nations or tribes, stone women to death, stand by while “inferior” races are put in ovens and gassed, or beat children to impose one’s will. In this belief system, there are only two options. You either dominate or you are dominated. Therefore, both war and the “war of the sexes” are inevitable. The guiding belief is that there is no other alternative.

The core configuration of the partnership system also has four components that are interacting and mutually reinforcing.  They are as follows:

  1. A democratic and egalitarian structure. This structure is found in both the family and the state or tribe, and is the template for other institutions. That is not to say that there are no rankings. But they are hierarchies of actualization rather than hierarchies of domination. These are more flexible hierarchies in which power is viewed not as power over but as power to and power with: the kind of power described in the progressive management literature today as inspiring and supporting rather than controlling.

  2. Equal partnership between women and men. With this comes a high valuing, in both women and men, of qualities and behaviors such as nonviolence, nurturance, and caregiving —qualities denigrated as “soft,” feminine,” and “unmanly” in the domination model.

  3. Abuse and violence are not culturally accepted. This does not mean there is no abuse or violence. But they do not have to be institutionalized or idealized because they are not needed to maintain rigid rankings of domination.

  4. Beliefs about human nature that support empathic and mutually respectful relations. Although cruelty and violence are recognized as human possibilities, they are not considered inevitable, much less moral.

She goes on to state:

“Cultures orienting to the partnership end of the partnership/domination continuum also transcend conventional categories such as religious or secular, Eastern or Western, industrial, pre-industrial, or postindustrial, and so on…”

Earlier in the article she elaborates on how she came up with this classification system and why it has the most explanatory power than any other system described before:

“…Religious/secular, Eastern/Western, and ancient/modern are shorthand for ideological, geographic, and time differences. Right/left and liberal/conservative describe political orientations. Industrial, pre-industrial, and postindustrial describe levels of technological development. Capitalism and communism are labels for  different economic systems. Democratic/authoritarian describes political systems in which there are, or are not, elections.

None of these categories takes into account the totality of the institutions, assumptions, beliefs, relationships, and activities that constitute a culture. Most critically, conventional categories fail to take into account the cultural construction of the primary human relations: the formative childhood relations and the relations between the male and female halves of humanity—even though these relations are basic to our species’ survival as well as to what children learn to view as normal or abnormal, moral or immoral, possible or impossible.

A basic principle of systems science is that if we do not look at the whole of a system, we cannot see the connections between its various components—just as if we look at only part of a picture, we cannot see the relationship between its different parts.

What becomes evident looking at a larger picture that includes the cultural construction of parent-child and gender relations are social configurations that repeat themselves cross-culturally and historically. There were no names for these social configurations. So I called one the domination system and the other the partnership system…”

What these two systems represent are two “social configurations or patterns of social organization.” This is graphically shown below:

Human Possibilities

She elaborates some more:

“The partnership system and the domination system are self-organizing and nonlinear. They describe mutually supporting interactions of key systems components that maintain a particular systems configuration.

These interactions establish and maintain two very different types of relations—from intimate to international. One type is based on rigid rankings of domination ultimately backed up by fear and force. The other type is based on mutual respect, mutual accountability, and mutual benefit.

No society orients completely to either the domination model or the partnership model. This is why I call this new conceptual framework the partnership/domination continuum. But the degree to which a society or time period orients to either end of this continuum profoundly affects which of our large repertoire of human traits and behaviors is culturally reinforced or inhibited.”

Hence, I have now come to understand and appreciate why our present social, economic and political machinations are what they are.  They have been based on hierarchies of competitive domination backed up by fear and force, and I now understand why our worldview, our religions and secular laws are the way they were and are now, and why vast amounts of human and natural resources are expended and wasted to maintain this domination system.  Income inequality, extreme poverty, sexism, racism, addictions, disease, crime and wars are basically inevitable symptoms of our domination disease systems. Truth be told we have a very unfit and inefficient system of self- and community- actualization (despite what our politicians and economists tell us), that is based on survival of the fittest competitors.

What we need to do now is to transform all of our institutions, inclusive of our political ones, from one based on hierarchies of domination to one based on hierarchies of actualization. This system of rules of engagement would no longer be predicated on survival of the fittest competitors but now be based on thrival of the fittest cooperators, which is now fitter, more efficient with less destruction and wastage, and above all is a more resilient, diversified and interconnected system guided by the core configurations of the partnership system elaborated by Eisner above.

In this light, I hope our present and future politicians will be guided accordingly in their local, regional and international endeavours to usher in this new world before it is too late.

What we need more than ever before is a social, economic and political system of cooperation and partnership, and less of competition and domination.  By endeavouring to do so, I hope we can individually, as a community and as a region, be the change we want to see in the world.

It is easier than you might think to achieve.  I have recently discovered that it only takes a small group of committed thoughtful people of about 10% of the population before we reach that tipping point to make that transformative dream a reality. (Please see: Minority rules: Scientists discover tipping point for the spread of ideas.) With this comforting tidbit of information, I am fully confident we can transform our world for the better, for ourselves and our children and theirs to come.

Further reading by Riane Eisner:

The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future

The Chalice and the Blade tells a new story of our cultural origins. It shows that warfare and the war of the sexes are neither divinely nor biologically ordained. It provides verification that a better future is possible—and is in fact firmly rooted in the haunting dramas of what happened in our past.

The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics

 Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations provided the first, most influential and lasting explanation of the workings of modern economics. But with his focus on “the market” as the best mechanism for producing and distributing the necessities of life, Smith’s concepts only told part of the story, leading to flawed economic models that devalue activities that fall outside of the market’s parameters of buying and selling. The real wealth of nations, Riane Eisler argues, is not merely financial, but includes the contributions of people and our natural environment. Here, Eisler goes beyond the market to reexamine economics from a larger perspective–and shows that we must give visibility and value to the socially and economically essential work of caring for people and the planet if we are to meet the enormous challenges we are facing.

Eisler proposes a new “caring economics” that takes into account the full spectrum of economic activities–from the life–sustaining activities of the household, to the life-enriching activities of caregivers and communities, to the life-supporting processes of nature. She shows how our values are distorted by the economic double standard that devalues anything stereotypically associated with women and femininity; reveals how current economic models are based on a deep-seated culture of domination; and shows how human needs would be better served by economic models based on caring. Most importantly, she provides practical proposals for new economic inventions–new measures, policies, rules, and practices–to bring about a caring economics that fulfills human needs.

Like her classic The Chalice and the Blade, The Real Wealth of Nations is a bold and insightful look at how to create a society in which each of us can achieve the full measure of our humanity.

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